Three-times World’s Heavyweight champion and Civil rights champion passed away on June 3, 2016 at a hospital in the US city of Phoenix, Arizona, after being admitted on Thursday. He had been fighting the Parkinson’s disease for the last thirty-two years and in addition to a respiratory illness which was more complicated due to the Parkinson’s disease.
Born on January 17, 1942 as Cassius Marcellus Clay, was known for being an inspiring, controversial and polarizing figure both inside and outside the boxing ring. He is one of the most recognized sports figures of the past 100 years, crowned “Sportsman of the Century” by Sports Illustrated and “Sports Personality of the Century” by the BBC. He trained under the legendary trainer Angelo Dundee when he won his first world champion title at the age of 22 and converted to Islam shortly after in 1964 after which he changed his name to ‘Muhammad Ali’. He once said ‘Cassius Clay’ was his slave name.
Muhammad Ali’s boxing career
He was often found proclaiming himself as the ‘greatest’ boxer and rightly so, since:
- Won Olympic light-heavyweight gold in 1964.
- Turned professional in the same year, 1964 and then was world heavyweight champion from 1964 to 1967, 1974 to 1978 and 1978 to 1979.
- Had 61 professional bouts, winning 56 (37 knockouts, 19 decisions), and losing five (4 decisions, 1 retirement)
- Till date he remains to be the only three-time lineal world heavyweight champion.
Fighter and thinker: The two sides of Ali.
Ali was aware of the discriminatory treatment towards the African-Americans living in America. As he rose to fame, he chose to act out against American racism. He was also a civil rights campaigner and poet who transcended the bounds of sport, race and nationality. Even as his health declined, Ali did not shy from politics or controversy, releasing a statement in December criticizing Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States. “We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda,” he said.
A Controversial Hero
Muhammad Ali is hero to different people for different reasons. For some he was a hero for his stand on the Vietnam War. In 1967, Ali refused the mandatory services to U.S. Military by declining to participate in the Vietnam War. He was a conscientious objector and cited his religious beliefs were an opposition to the a war. He stated, “my enemy is the white people, not the Vietcong… no Vietcong ever called me a nigger”. The statement articulated, for many people, a reason to oppose the war. He suddenly became the face, the voice, the very heart of the anti-war movement that would shape a generation. But the US government found him guilty on draft evasion charges and stripped him of his world championship title and boxing license. He could not fight again for nearly four years. After his conviction for refusing the draft was overturned in 1971, Ali returned to the ring and fought in three of the most iconic contests in boxing history, helping restore his reputation with the public.
For others he was a hero for his quick wit and clever ways. He was a kind and charitable person who for most of his life gave away his fortune. He was a larger-than-life figure who infiltrated so many aspects of society.
Today as the whole world is grieving at this great loss, many athletes and celebrities are paying their tributes to him. We should all remember what he had said about how he wanted the world to remember him, “I would like to be remembered as a man who won the heavyweight title three times, who was humorous and treated everyone right. As a man who never looked down on those who looked up to him…who stood for his beliefs…who tried to unite all humankind through faith and love. And if all that’s too much, then I guess I’d settle for being remembered only as a great boxer who became a leader and a champion of his people. And I wouldn’t even mind if folks forgot how pretty I was.” When Ali proclaimed himself as ‘the greatest of all time’ he believed in himself, so should we, because truly, he was the greatest.
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